Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Moving towards gender equality in sports

Like many in this community I have been following the exhilarating campaign of the Matildas in the FIFA World Cup. While the agonising defeat on Wednesday evening hurt, the manner in which the team captured the hearts of Australia was overwhelming. There is genuinely so much to celebrate.

There are so many positive messages we can learn from the Matildas and from the generosity and enthusiasm with which the media and general public supported them. It truly feels like a seismic shift in representation of women in sport in Australia.

Since the establishment of The King David School in 1978 we have been committed to the promotion of equity for our students. This has taken particular expression in providing equal opportunities for girls to thrive in areas of Jewish life and practice, academic and co-curricular pursuits and on the sporting field. 

While it is true that there has been significant progress towards greater gender equality in Australia, there are many areas of life where misogyny, discrimination and unequal treatment are still prevalent. The National Council of Jewish Women of Australia Vic’s Make Space For Her campaign highlighted the underrepresentation of women in board positions within our community. There is significant documentation of the continued existence of a gender pay gap. This is particularly true in the area of sport which is testament to the ongoing discrepancy in treatment on the basis of gender. 

At the start of the World Cup, a French advertisement from communications company Orange went viral on social media. The advertisement shows highlights of Les Bleus, the French male soccer team, described with frenetic commentary extolling their virtues. At the end of the footage there is the statement “Only Les Bleus can give us these emotions.” And here comes the twist. The text then states, “But this is not what you have seen.” We are then shown how video editing tools have been used to superimpose the faces and bodies of the male Bleus players onto the faces and bodies of Les Bleues, the female French team. The cleverness of the advertisement is that it inverts our stereotypes and challenges misperceptions regarding a qualitative difference between men’s and women’s sports.

The emotional journey taken in the course of this advertisement seems to mirror the emotional journey undertaken across the nation over the last few weeks. For the first time since Cathy Freeman’s extraordinary run in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, women’s sport was the number one news story, topic of conversation and was central to our zeitgeist.

I read a beautiful article on the online publication Kidspot in which a young mother and soccer coach Amanda Baddock explained how meaningful this celebration of the Matildas had been. She said that she grew up having to play boys’ soccer and was pushed towards netball despite her love of the game. She said that she recently overheard her son playing with another male team mate at their soccer training. One said to the other “I’ll be Kerr, you be Raso.” She was blown away to realise that for the first time, young males were looking up to female sports stars as role models. Baddock says “Something special is happening. It’s a cool thing to watch about this moment in time.” 

Of course it is a truism to note that the fact that I am writing about this now and that there has been so much positive, but surprised, commentary regarding the embracing of our female sport stars, is suggestive of the persistence of an inherent inequality.  

I am reminded of the beautiful quote from comedian Sarah Silverman, that I have previously included in this column: “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them they couldn’t.”

 Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Light